In the first part of our exclusive interview with Robert, he talks about his upbringing in Caerphilly, his start in football and breaking out the front flip.
Hi Robert. First things first, how are you and where are you?
I’m actually in Wales. I’ve been back for a few months, since Christmas. I’m back home and its been nice. It’s the most amount of time I’ve spent here in about eight or nine years. Its been good because I’ve been able to spend some time with my family and my mum especially.
Did you find it tough growing up on a council estate in Caerphilly and trying to be a footballer, or did it give you that extra edge?
Yes, definitely. I was born in Zambia and grew up in Caerphilly. I moved to the UK when I was nine and my auntie lived in the area. My dad was English, from Yorkshire. When he passed away, that was the main reason why we moved to Wales. My mum was on hr own raising five kids, including myself, and wanted to be closer to her sister. We moved to a council estate and it was tough because it was probably one of the roughest areas in Wales at the time.
We went there because we didn’t have a lot and that’s all we could afford at the time. Getting thrown in there, it was tough because there were drugs, people breaking the law and going to jail. On top of that, you had to deal with racism and bullying because there were no other black kids around. In an area like that, there’s a lack of rules. All the tough things you can encounter at that sort of age, you’re surrounded by them.
I lived there until I was 15 or 16. I always try to find the silver lining in things though, so although there were lots of bad people, there will also a lot of really excellent people too. Those are the people I were drawn to because I’ve always fundamentally understood right from wrong. The people I became friends with I’m actually still best friends with. We’ve all moved away from that area, with families and kids, but we were all on a similar path. As difficult as it was, it also taught me a lot. Fundamental life skills.
I grew up in a street called Snowden Court and that was the centre of the area where everyone would pass through or just hang around. My house was in the centre and when I was about 12, kids started playing outside. There was a roundabout on the pitch, two garages either side and I was straight away drawn to it. Playing outside and making friends. Sometimes there would be two people, sometimes 15 people. Football was like a common goal. Once the football came out, we just played. It was tough, but I have some very good memories and made some very good friends.
At what age did you start playing for a team and how did you end up at Cardiff?
I started playing for a team when I was about 12. One of the kids that played in my street played for Llanbradach, which was 10-15 minutes away. He thought that I was good and should come and play for them. I got invited there and had a trial for the Under-12’s B team and got in. I played a couple of years there then I went to a team called Mornington Meadows in Caerphilly for one year. I got invited to play for a team called GE Wales down in Nantgarw. We started playing where the youth team are now in Treforest and that is where Cardiff City spotted me.
Can you remember someone knocking themselves out on the post when you scored an overhead kick during the opening game of the season at Hartlepool?
Haha, yes I do. That was my first ever start and the first game of the season I believe. The crowd was behind the goal, so when I scored, I did the somersault in front of the fans and everyone jumped on me. Somebody leapt over the stand and apparently knocked themselves out on the post! I get reminded about that so much.
When did you learn to do the front flip?
I always wanted to be a footballer, it was my dream. I grew up enjoying watching goals and their celebrations, players enjoying themselves on the pitch. I loved the way that they sometimes lost it in that moment. You felt drawn to it and part of it. When I started playing for GE Wales, at about 14, I decided I want to have my own celebration and I want something different!
I was pretty good at gymnastics in school and I wanted something acrobatic. At the time, I was watching people like Faustino Asprilla and Fernando Couto because I used to watch a lot of Italian football. I tried a back somersault and a cartwheel, but nobody really did it forward and I just started doing it. One day I scored and just did it. From that moment on, it just stuck.
There have been times when I’ve done it and the rotation is too quick or too slow, but I styled it out and added something at the end of it.
You scored 35 goals in a single season, which is an incredible achievement at any level. How does it feel when you’re a striker in that sort of form? I imagine you must feel invincible.
You’re normally confident in yourself and what you’re trying to do, but to score goals consistently, you need consistency and control of your feelings. Sometimes you might rush or panic and your technique will be a little bit off. When you can control all of those things, I had this sort of zen space I was in and it kind of felt like I’m not really there. Like I’m watching myself play. Everything is automatic and that comes from a lot of practice, repetition and knowing how to finish those actions off in the moment. That season, I was in that space the whole time and it was just pure.
I’ve also got to say, it was because of my team mates as well. We had a really good team that always created chances for me. So when the moments came, it was just a case of making sure I was in that space because to score that many goals, you’re scoring in so many different ways. To get it right really is something else. That was definitely my favourite season playing for Cardiff. It was amazing because everything came off. We had so much fun that year, on and off the pitch.